How would you choose to die if you could? Homer Simpson seemed to believe he would die either by “too much happiness”—sounds okay, right? He also predicted he may die in a “naked girl avalanche” (“Treehouse of Horror XV”—S16E01). Sound good, lads? When you think about it, probably not…
Such choices are beyond our control. Well, most of us. Who knows what Elon’s final plans are? We’ll mostly die from age-related illnesses, cancer, or unfortunate accidents on the road. But there are some ways of dying that are more elaborate, crueler, and, mercifully, rarer. It is these terrible ways of kicking the bucket that we discuss in this list—pray these fates never befall you. After you read, try some happy thoughts. We suggest thinking about a puppy. Not a rabid one, though.
10 Falling to Your Death at a Popular Beauty Spot
Or, for that matter, any unintentional fall from a great height, really. However, falling to your death from, say, a viewing station at the Grand Canyon might be slightly worse given the unexpected nature of your sudden plunge. Bungee jumping or skydiving accidents, as awful as they must be, have the individual already in a state of excitement, given the activity itself—the slight chance of death is part of the thrill. Smiling for a selfie or lining up your viewfinder to catch the perfect sunset doesn’t usually include the thought of a possible fall onto some jagged rocks hundreds of feet below.
The odds of dying at one of the USA’s most world-famous natural attractions is 1 in 400,000. But these types of probabilistic statements don’t mean that one person per 400,000 people who visit will die. It means “on average.” So if you try and take that perfect sunset selfie too close to an edge, slip, and take that last plunge, you will be that one in 400,000.
It’s behavior-driven, not a numerically bound phenomenon. Take one case recounted on mygrandcanyonpark.com: these cases of unexpected falls are tragic, “including a 38-year-old father from Texas pretending to fall to scare his daughter, who then really did fall 400 feet [122 meters] to his death” back in 2015. As the title of this list suggests—awful.
9 Radiation Poisoning
Given a quick scan of this listicle’s title and that of this entry, you may be forgiven for uttering a gloriously ’90s “Well, duh!” But are you fully aware of what acute radiation poisoning entails?
Hisashi Ouchi, a 35-year-old worker at a fuel enrichment plant near Tokai-mura, Japan, found out in 1999. After a critical event that prompted mass evacuations in the surrounding area, Ouchi was among several technicians that were treated for the effects of radiation burns and sickness. Ouchi spent 83 days in a Tokyo hospital with a white blood cell count so low that he effectively ceased to have an immune system. Despite this awful situation, the effects were initially hidden from observers at the hospital—one nurse noted that she believed he could go home on the day of his transfer, only showing what seemed like severe sunburn and some swelling. But with only 10% of the normal levels of white blood cells, every pathogen imaginable could now prey upon the helpless man.
And many did.
His skin began to crack and slough away. He began to secrete 3 liters (3 quarts) of diarrhea a day, began to bleed from his orifices, and needed to be heavily bandaged due to ever spreading, weeping, and bloody sores on his body. His eyelids fell off almost completely. He eventually died of multiple organ failure, despite the best efforts of the medical team and his family. They insisted on having him revived each time his heart stopped (which may have contributed to his eventual death).
8 Being the Victim of a Serial Killer
People often focus far too much on killers in our society—”true crime” is a massive area of interest. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing. This sort of focus can lead to greater scrutiny and knowledge, aiding in prevention and encouraging situational awareness. All too often, unfortunately, the victims get all but forgotten. Many documentarians, YouTubers, and journalists don’t fall into this trap, but plenty do—even to that point of a gross sort of anti-hero worship for sociopathic monsters develops.
Instead of seeing it from the killers’ perspective (deeds and patterns of behavior), consider the experience of the victims. The horror. The helplessness. The pain. There are plenty of examples to highlight here, but given the glory-seeking nature of many of these degenerate murderers, perhaps it’s better for you to do your own “research” in this instance. But keep it academic, less the lurid draw of these crimes become a bit too entertaining. And when you really think about it, does that not make this way of dying all the worse? If a person becomes the victim of a serial murderer today, will they not have thoughts of who would play them and, more bleakly, their killer in the movie? Zac Efron played Bundy…
7 Getting Attacked or Eaten by a Bear
We forget that humans were prey for most of our history. With all our inventions—guns, secure houses, barbed wire—around 200 people a year still die from some animal-related incidents in the U.S. alone. In India, around 300 people die each year just due to… elephant attacks. Remember, they also have tigers, snakes, and bears over there.
It is this last predator that should strike the most acute fear in us. Sure, other big toothy mammals still roam the Earth, but none tend to kill as cruelly as our Ursine cousins. Large felines, for instance, opt to quickly kill by means of crushing suffocation. Bears don’t care about “quick” or “painless.” They take their time.
Often, they’ll eat you alive.
Exposure to the elements is no fun, as anyone who has forgotten an umbrella on a rainy day will attest to. The “exposure” found in official documents regarding missing persons, however, is more than an annoying inconvenience and the resulting sniffy nose.
“Death from/by exposure” may be a conclusion that leaves readers of news stories saddened but also with a sense of “well, there we go then.” The person died by being outside, “that’s why we remain terminally online in our mancaves/ladylounges.” The human body has an in-built will to survive. Unless one attempts suicide by refusing nutrition and hydration in the wilds, most lost (inexperienced/injured/unprepared) people will still strive to stay alive, prolonging their suffering and inevitable demise.
In cold or high-altitude environments, for instance, you’ll probably die from hypothermia. Uncontrollable shivering is followed by amnesia, confusion, and slurred speech. Then the fun really begins. You’ll stop shivering, hallucinate, and may engage in strange behaviors like paradoxical undressing and terminal burrowing—two strange symptoms that tend to hasten your frozen demise. Add in a dose of malnutrition and frostbitten limbs and digits, and you have a truly miserable end. In the desert, however, it’s a good deal slower. Dehydration will kill you quicker than in more temperate climates. Still, the pain from sunburn and the hastened organ failure, sunstroke causing puking, and general confusion guarantee your death will be awful.
In the deep woods, well, it can take months.
Take the case of Christopher McCandless. He died 113 (or so) days after trying to live closer to nature in the wilds of Alaska. He seems to have starved to death or slowly poisoned himself by eating the wrong berries. He recorded most of his experiences and thoughts in his journal. That’s a long, lonely death.
5 Contracting This Cruel Disease
One of the main fears that mankind holds (alongside snakes, spiders, the dark, death and heights) is that of “losing one’s mind.” Iris Murdoch, the great Anglo-Irish author and philosopher, once said, “At the moment I’m just falling, falling… just falling, as it were, I think of things, and then they go away.” Poignant and terrifying to consider. She had Alzheimer’s disease.
A similar cruel illness is frontotemporal dementia. Unlike other disorders that fall into the brackets of dementia, this illness that affects the brain’s frontal lobes tends to begin around two decades sooner than the other forms—from 45 onward (typically, other forms tend to begin aged 65 and above). The commonly known symptom (namely, memory loss) doesn’t occur until late in the condition’s cruel progress. Before this, erratic and profound behavioral changes, disordered and slurred speech, and general loss of mental acuity come first. Sufferers can get easily distracted, engage in risk-taking behavior, and undergo profound personality changes.
Then the memory begins to go.
The condition starts to look more like conventional dementias (like Alzheimer’s). This illness provides a bitter, horrid starter before an equally appalling main course.
For more info, check out the International Society for Frontotemporal Dementias.
4 Explosive Decompression
This is probably the least likely death the average Listversian will suffer from all the entries on this list. Unless our data analysis hasn’t picked up that over 50% of you work on oil rigs…
The effects of rapid decompression—the near-immediate change of pressure in the gasses and fluids inside your body—are painful enough on their own. Look out for hypoxia, burst lungs, trauma from objects flying around, and if at altitude, extreme frostbite and rapid onset of altitude sickness. But if you happen to work under an oil rig and the proper procedures are not followed in the diving bell, you may not live long enough to suffer these symptoms. During the Byford Dolphin diving bell accident in 1983, for instance, four divers died due to the effects mentioned above.
One did not.
Norwegian diver Truls Hellevik, 34, was bisected, his body fragmented. All the internal organs in his chest cavity (except his trachea and a section of the small intestine) were forcibly expelled as he was dragged through a 60-cm (24-inch) gap caused by a jammed door in “decompression chamber 1” by the extreme pressure change. Viscera was found 9 meters (30 feet) above the exterior pressure door.
Animal attacks are bad enough—as discussed above—but the aftereffects if one manages to survive the initial onslaught can be just as bad. The effects of rabies are simply terrifying, both to witness and to suffer.
The mania and aggression, the frothing mouth, the painful and involuntary muscle spasms, the hallucinations, and the strange, violent aversion to water—hydrophobia—that leads to profound dehydration that worsens each of the other symptoms, are chilling to see in those unlucky enough to contract this illness. Luckily, good prophylactic treatments are available, driving worldwide deaths down quite a bit. But you must get treated before these serious symptoms manifest. If you don’t, rabies is fatal in almost every case.
2 Ingesting Water Hemlock
A walk in the woods can be a wonderful way to relieve stress. You’ll come across so much fun stuff to look at and interact with—babbling brooks, all manner of fascinating birds, ancient trees, and pretty flowers. You may also want to gather some wild mushrooms, berries, nuts, or edible leaves. How about making a quick lunch for yourself? Some pecans toasted on your campfire, spread over a bed of foraged wild garlic and dandelion leaves, drizzled with the juice of some wild raspberries, and sliced wild turnip sound good?
Yeah, you’re probably going to die in extreme pain… unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.
Water hemlock is very close in smell and form to wild turnip/carrot. It’s also one of the most poisonous plants found in both Europe and North America. It can cause death as quickly as 15 minutes if ingested. It can even kill you with prolonged contact with your skin, a death that includes excessive drooling, nausea and explosive vomiting, profuse sweating, dizziness, stabbing stomach pains, extreme lethargy, delirium, and uncontrollable bowel movements. Then, before you die, trouble breathing, convulsions, heart problems, kidney failure, and coma. So, only sniff flowers you recognize, people! Daisies and dandelions only…
1 Being Boiled
This doesn’t happen all that often anymore, thankfully. At least not as a specific punishment for nabbing your neighbor’s goat. It is true, however, that many cultures have historically indulged in dipping their naughty-doers into hot liquids.
People do, however, succumb to scalding and burns from industrial accidents. Take the tragic case of 25-year-old chef Issa Ismail from 2021. He was preparing a huge vat of chicken soup for a wedding he was catering in the Zakho district of Iraq. After sustaining third-degree burns to 70% of his body, he was rushed to the hospital, dying after five agonizing days.